Myth, Memories and Punk Ethos, a conversation with Peter Hook
The haunting sound of Peter Hook’s bass is the soundtrack of generations, Joy Division and New Order are two of the most influential bands of contemporary rock and electro rock. 35 years after the suicide of Ian Curtis, he decided to face the ghosts trapped inside the two iconic Joy Division albums “Unknown Pleasures “ and “Closer” and tour with his band The Light playing the two records, in order, from start to finish.
Death and ego are part of the myth that tinted the story around Peter Hook’s bands Joy Division and New Order. Leaving the drama and the legal issues with Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris aside, he de cided to resurrect the punk spirit that brought the band together after a Sex Pistol’s concert in 1976, and hit the road to play Joy Division’s classics in front of a crowd that never heard them live before.
The tour kicks off on Friday 17th in Grand Central, Miami and continues with dates across the Southern States of America, including cities like Saint Petersburg, Orlando, Dallas, Asheville, among others.
Peter Hook’s voice on the other side of the line sounds deep, nostalgic but full of excitement at the same time, ready to go back in time and talk about the life on a grim Manchester and to pay his debt to all the songs that have been untouched for over 30 years, after Ian’s death and during Peter’s time in New Order.
How does it feel to listen to “24 hours”, “Shadow Play”, “She’s Lost Control” & “Decades”, played live by one of their composers? We are about to find out…
Why did you decide to tour performing “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer”? I’m sure that playing all those songs again bring intense memories back to life …
Well, the interesting thing is that before New Order splits up in 2006, it was ok to ignore everything to do with Joy Division. When New Order splits up and I was on the outside looking in I realized it was ridiculous that we never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division, very odd, specially because of the importance and the popularity that increased in over the 30 years since Ian Curtis died. I was coming up to the 30th anniversary of Ian’s life, May 18th, 2010 and I thought that it would be a good idea to find a way to celebrate it. I had my own club in Manchester called “The Factory” and literally I got together with some friends, I wasn’t in contact with the other two members of Joy Division, since New Order split up I had a very, very bad, antagonistic relationship, and I thought right… fuck it, let’s play it for fun, which is what we did. In 2010 I started playing Joy Division again, I haven’t played 99% of the songs for over 30 years. Closer, that album in particular, I’ve never played any of the songs, so it was very exciting and it was wonderful to get them back, and for the past 5 years, as I work my way trough the whole of my catalog that I’ve written since I was 21, since I saw the Sex Pistols, and I now get the opportunity to play Joy Division, alongside New Order, ‘till my heart’s content really. This year is a really important year, it will be 35 years, sadly since Ian Curtis died so the memories yes get more pointed but it’s wonderful t keep the music going and it’s wonderful to see the reaction of people, when they hear it played live. As a live musician that I have been for nearly 38 years, I get used to play those songs live and I forget the impact that it can have on somebody, specially when is music from a group that they have a emotional attachment to, I forget the impact that it can have. So playing in places like Miami, that’s going to be my first time and in places where we tour to like Brazil and Mexico playing Joy Division’s music, the reaction has been absolutely fantastic.
You definitely inspired many generations…
The interesting point for me is that most bands in this world in my genre of music, they either sound like Joy Division or they sound like New Order [laughs], so I was very lucky to have been in both.
Can you tell me one of your favorite stories of the making off of those albums?
I have written a book about Joy Division, which is called “Unknown Pleasures Inside Joy Division,” so I would encourage anybody who wants to listen to some good stories to buy the book [laughs]. Unknown Pleasures was done really quickly, we had no money, we were very young, it was recorded in the course of 3, maybe 5 days from start to finish, so we were very busy, it wasn’t really much to talk about, Closer was recorded over the period of 2 weeks, Ian was very ill, unfortunately when we made Closer, so my memory is tainted with him being ill all the time and very depressed because of his illness. But if anybody wants to read about the stories I recommend to buy the book.
In 2011 you recorded “Pictures in My Mind”, a track that had been lost for many years. Is there any other unreleased song from those days that you would like to record
What happen was that our manager, Rob Gretton, lent a tape to a friend of his who liked it, turned out not to be a friend, and leaked it on the internet and funny enough New Order used some tracks of this tape, again they didn’t tell me they were doing it, they did it for record store day when they did a version of “In a Lonely Place” and somebody brought it to my attention, an America kid called Seth and he said “Have you heard the demo?” which is not a demo, it’s a rehearsal tape, because Joy Division didn’t have the money to demo, so he sent me the Joy Division rehearsal tape of “Pictures in my Mind”, I heard it and though “Oh my God, is nearly finished”, it was really close to being finish. Ian Curtis in particular always used to say the same thing to us, “You should finish of every idea because someone will love it” and I always remember that, and I said right… for you Ian I’m gonna finish it up, which is what we did, we finish of “Pictures in my Mind” which was very nice and very easy and as a result the two other member of the band tried to sue me and to stop me but they couldn’t, so it was interesting, it was nice to do it. I’ve since found about 3, 4 other Joy Division songs on rehearsal tapes that are unfinished but from the same period; when we were just crossing over from punk to rock, “Pictures in My Mind” is a rocky punky song, this other songs are from the same period, so they are actually quite punky, rocky, they are not quite what you would say traditional Joy Division sound, they are from a really early incarnation of Warsaw actually, the band we were before, but it’s really interesting to have them, so I may, once I finish this bloody New Order book, which is driving me mad at the moment, I may actually finish them off, it would be nice to put them to bed. There is also a New Order song that I discovered called “Homage” which my group finished and we keep meaning to record it just so people will have a recorded version, which is nice. So yes I have a big long list of things to do and those two songs are on it.
Can’t wait to hear!
Thank you. “Homage” in particular sounds great, the reason why we didn’t record it as New Order was because Bernard didn’t like it so he persuaded us to drop it. But when I heard it again I was wow, this is fucking great, it is a great song. There were a couple of songs that he took exception to, that weren’t recorded properly, another one called “Too Late” so yes, they are all there to do, one day.
The bass lines and melodies are a fundamental part of the personality that Unknown Pleasures and Closer have, full of drama and anxiety. How does it feel to play those songs now that the drama and anger are gone?
Well the interesting part now is that not only do I played them, but I also have my son, Jack on bass who plays them so is quite odd to see my son, the closest thing to me in the world, play those songs as well as me. It’s a very, very estrange feeling, but it’s nice. I was blessed as a musician, somebody up there liked me and gave me a very individual bass style, a very individual style of playing, which I have to thank the Gods for, there can’t be any other reason, it’s purely charm, purely luck and a little bit of skill and talent what did it, and yes is lovely, is very nice to think that when I’m dead and gone, people like yourself will listen to our music and appreciate my work. It’s really nice to realize that you left a dent in the world , you know… and your talent will be appreciated but I have no idea where it came from, it wasn’t planned. It was encouraged very much by Ian Curtis, very kindly by him as well, I was very encourage by him as a player, every time we cane to write new music, he would say the same thing to me, “Hooky, Hooky play high!, Hooky play high, ” he would say to me, every time.
How did the city of Manchester influenced or affected those two records?
I think it affected them subconsciously, consciously Manchester was a very grim place, in the 70’s in particular, and Unknown Pleasures was written in ‘77, ’78, Closer was written in ’79 and released in 1980. Manchester was a grim place and maybe psychologically Bernard and I were writing great music hoping to escape, it felt claustrophobic, very post industrial, very worn out, very grey, black and white and I can’t say that it is like that now, so subconsciously it had a lot to do with it yeah. Consciously, maybe not. Bernard said really intuitive things, and one thing he did say was that you spend 21 years writing your first record so you soak up a hell of a lot of influences, and people generally struggle with their second. Joy Division was very, very lucky we made our second record and it was every bit as good as the first so the influences must have gone very deep.
Do you think that the movies made about you guys are truth to what really happened back then?
“24 Hour Party People” is a very light hearted look at our story, and our story doesn’t only include Joy Division, it also includes New Order, it also includes Factory Records, our label, and it also includes the Hacienda, our nightclub in England, so there is a big story there. “Control” which focuses mainly on Joy Division is more realistic, more truth to life. The man who did Control called Anton Corbjin is a great friend of ours so he knew us all very well, so he made sure that we were all very realistically acted in the film.
In many other interviews you mentioned the Punk Ethic that Joy Division, even New Order had in a way.
Do you think that the Punk Ethic is dead in nowadays Rock scene?
That’s a good question… In our early years yes, the thing about being rebellious is very difficult to keep being old aged [laughs]. When you become fat and comfortable, rebellion doesn’t seen that attractive … You could say that playing our albums from start to finish to a live audience is pretty punky, most bands don’t do that. Most bands play hit sets, something that is very easy for the audience and for the players. So maybe I do consider my self a little punky, a little awkward. It comes down to refusing to go along with the flow, punk to me was about making a stand to what you believed in and sticking by it and what you believed in was correct and right to the detriment of everything around you. It’s a quite destructive ethos really. But I still find myself being very awkward and very opinionating and luckily because of my talent and success [laughs], I get my own way along, getting your own way in life can be quite destructive but it can be very pleasurable. Punks where hitting out and the thing is that what struck me about punk was that when I could looked at a punk musician and think “I could do that”, were as when I looked at most musicians like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, anybody like that, I never looked and thought that I could do that. It was about being inspired and the demystification, if you like, of the myth.
Everything to my mind that could have been done has been done and it’s very difficult to make a dent in this world by being awkward, most people tent to go along and find the lowest common denominator that pleases the most people, like “X factor” and these people who sing other people’s songs, it doesn’t really add anything to the world, just someone singing someone else’s songs well, so it is very difficult. Personal politics are very difficult. We took our personal politics and made a career out of it, which was a really interesting way of working, but I don’t think that any band can do that this days. If you to bands like Libertines, they had a pretty much anarchic, punk ethos, Pete Doherty in particular had a very destructive personality pretty much like Johnny Rotten but that’s the last musician I can think of that had a punk attitude.
You are doing Hacienda Records, so I assume that you listen to new bands constantly. Are there any new findings that you would like to share?
The interesting thing about Hacienda is that it was all about a movement that more or less finished in 1993, the idea of bringing new band to the label and featuring new DJ’s and new music was to make it more current and it actually worked, I found great groups, but this world is a tough one, now is the toughest it has ever been to run a record company, because of a simple reason, people do not buy records, it’s very frustrating doing a record company, when you put loads of money, effort, time and you get no reward, it’s absolutely unbelievable, and I must admit it is very frustrating. But I was taught by two great men, Antony Wilson and Rob Gretton, that you have to give something back. I have a great career, and it’s nice to help kids, is nice to help them in anyway you can. The Hacienda website it reaches one thousand people a day where a thousand of people a day get to hear this groups. I don’t make any money of it, you loose money constantly but it’s nice to do it, it is nice to give something back.
And it is something that might transcend you …
And I also hope that maybe if they make it and they make a million then they will came and look after me [laughs].
You are going to play these two albums in front of a public that never heard these songs live. As you know, Joy Division inspired generations, not only musically but aesthetically too. What do you expect to take home with you after this tour is over. What would make you happy?
I hopefully will take home some great memories, there won’t be much else at this level, I tell you. I’m not pretending to be Joy Division, Joy Division live was very different to how they were on record, what I’m doing is an interpretation of the record and playing it live gives it a power, an emotional depth that I love. now watching people, hearing them and singing along to tracks like “Decades”, “The Eternal”, “Passover” where Ian was really bearing his soul lyrically is a very, very powerful feeling. People like it, otherwise I wouldn’t be there, I wouldn’t be coming to Miami of people didn’t enjoy it. The greatest compliment in the world to me as a member of Joy Division is that 35 years later, I get to play my music to people like you; young people that never heard it live. It is a wonderful, wonderful feeling, I wish Ian was there to do it with me, I really, really do, but unfortunately that can’t be the case.
Sat 18th April 2015 State Theatre Saint Petersburg, FL
Sun 19th April 2015 The Plaza Live, Orlando, FL
Tues 21st April 2015 Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA
Weds 22nd April 2015 Republic New Orleans, LA
Fri 24th April 2015 Granada Theater, Dallas, TX
Sat 25th April 2015 Middle Of The Map Festival, Kansas City, MO
Mon 27th April 2015 Bogarts, Cincinatti, Ohio
Tues 28th April 2015 Exit/In, Nashville, TN
Weds 29th April 2015 Headliners Music Hall, Louisville, KY
Fri 1st May 2015 Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
Sat 2nd May 2015 The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC.